Whistler: A Short History

Dirt Magazine #112. Photos: Mattias Fredriksson

Dirt Magazine #112. Photos: Mattias Fredriksson

The following is an excerpt from ‘The Idiot’s Guide To Whistler’ that appeared in Dirt Magazine in 2010. Words by Seb Kemp.

Whistler is proof that hard work, determination, and passion can bring anything to being. In 1960 Whistler didn’t exist, all there was was a few shacks and lakeside lodges on Alta lake, and the mountain that now bears the name Whistler was called London Mountain. A bid to win the 1968 Winter Olympics pushed rapid development of the area but the original bid was unsuccessful and it took 50 years before an Olympic event was held on the sugared slopes of Whistler Mountain. In that time Whistler grew and grew, a second mountain was opened (Blackcomb) and eventually merged into the grand scheme of bright minds until the point where the resort of Whistler is the largest ski area in North America by some considerable margin, has the largest lift capacity and features the Peak2Peak Gondola, which is the highest and longest unsupported cable car in the world.

Mountain biking in Whistler has been happening for many years before the Bike Park opened in 1998. As early as the 80s, and perhaps even the seventies (the original riders are either lost to history or too stoned remember the exact dates) riders were challenging themselves and exploring the mountains in summertime before mountain bikes were mountain bikes. Small crews of skiers looking for excitement and physical challenges would pedal touring bikes up the summertime access roads then bomb back down the dusty, rocky roads, chased by the smell of burning rubber brakes pads. The fall classic, the Cheakamus Challenge (a 70km punishing race from Squamish to Whistler started by Doris Burma) was held every year since 1989 until it was discontinued after 2010.

Singletrack was being cut back even in the early 1980s when trials riders Bill Epplet and Jon Anderson started to cut lines around the Lorimer Road – which eventually evolved into River Runs Through It – and the rocky play area were Cut Yer Bars now curls. The motorbike trails background of many early trail builders was supplemented by the tastes of the Valleys skiers who found themselves with not much to do during the long warm summers other than get aggressive melanomas on the Glacier, construct rafts to float drunkenly down the River of Golden Dreams, or put hammer to nail constructing the rapidly developing resort in order to earn enough that the next winter would be a true bums existence of powder days and stolen buns. At this stage very few trails were legitimately built but instead were built for the builders own enjoyment. Trails started to pop up higher on the flanks of the Westside which gave riders a good slog up old logging skidder roads followed by hairy steep, rocky, loamy descents which would in some ways imitate the feeling of winter turns in Khyber’s or Spanky’s Ladder – two legendary winter ski zones. Dan Swanstrom was the most prolific of the time building Westside classics like Danimal, Industrial Disease, Beaver pass and River Runs Through It, or Emerald ‘No-Flow’ goodness in the Shit Happens maze. Even to this day these trails deserve respect, not just for their history, but for the level of commitment and skill required to clean these trails.

Other highly notable builders followed suit with Binty who was responsible for some of the high marking and steep trails on the Upper Westside and Boyd McTavish who built legal multi use trails around Blackcomb and the Flank for the resort municipality. Chris Markle, who with insanely determined work ethic and stubborn tenacity began work on his grand vision for an epic of a trail which connected Whistler to a furtherest interconnected trail north of Whistler – Thrill Me Kill Me. This mammoth of a mamba trail took many years of secret slaving and was built in many sections where he would camp out for days and perhaps weeks on end in order to avoid the arduous commute to the trail. In these days and nights of solitude he had a commune cougar and bears, but his tireless perseverance was rewarded when the municipality sanctioned and deeded Comfortably Numb for life as well as being titled as IMBA Epic Trail status.

The Bike Park will be 15 years old this summer. This is much older than most modern mountain biking developments (consider the kinds of bikes we were riding in 1998) in its relatively short life span it has risen to not only become the worlds busiest (over 120,000 visitors in 2010) bike park, but it has defined and inspired a huge evolution in mountain biking, from the profusion of bike parks, development of the equipment we ride and the trails we ride. Whistler wasn’t the first Bike Park (even the Blackcomb chairlifts which started to whisk riders up the mountain before Whistler wasn’t the first) but it was the one that changed everything. Inspired trail building and a belief in the viability of gravity riding were the two largest factors in putting Whistler Bike Park where it is today. The proximity to the North Shore, which was simultaneously pushing a more aggressive and marketable form of mountain biking, proximity of a large geographical population and the infrastructure of a very established resort all played a huge role, too. But it is the passion, drive and unique skills of people like Tom “Pro” Prochazka, Dave Kelly, Rob Cocquet, Rob McSkimming that have put Whistler Bike park were it is today.

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